Eleven months after sports hernia surgery, Mike Green was finally pain free. He began the 2013 NHL season feeling the best he had since injuring his groin in November 2011.
Back to his silky smooth skating, the Washington Capitals defenseman piled up 30 minutes a night and looked like the old Mike Green, or, rather, the young Mike Green who was a Norris Trophy finalist. All that was missing was his previous offensive production.
Back from another groin injury, Green isn’t worried about limitations, and the firepower that made him a star has seemingly returned.
“I think that’s just because I feel good,” he said. “I had a rough go the last few years and [I’m] finally healthy. So [I] feel great.”
In four games from March 30 through April 4, Green scored five goals and added an assist. He was halfway to his own league record for consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman.
“Mike’s [always] been a game-breaker for us,” forward Brooks Laich said. “He can change the game from the back end. He’s got tremendous ability, the skating ability to get up and back on the ice. And then he’s got a tremendous shot.”
Green looked like his old self earlier this season, but having his laser shot back is a big difference. When he’s scoring like he has been lately, forward Marcus Johansson said Green is “almost like the fourth forward out there.”
That’s what coach Adam Oates wants from him.
“I love the way he’s moving up on the play,” Oates said Thursday night. “He’s not trying to do too much with it. I would say the last two games, he’s moved up at the correct times and been involved in the play at the correct time. Not trying to gamble. Obviously, the poise on the blue line’s huge. The puck possession’s huge, and [he is] playing very well.”
Going into Sunday, Green trailed only 2012 Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators in goals per game. Green had eight in 25 games while Karlsson, who’s out for the season with a torn left Achilles tendon, scored six in his 14 games.
No NHL defenseman has more even-strength goals (seven), but captain Alex Ovechkin doesn’t think Green is necessarily back on his game.
“I don’t think, to be honest with you, he was not on his game,” Ovechkin said. “He’s offensive D and he can play well defensively when he feels healthy and when everything on his side. You can see when he make a move in our zone it give him confidence and give us confidence as well when we have our best D play like that.”
In each of the previous seven games before Sunday night at the Tampa Bay Lightning, Green played at least 22 minutes, averaging 24:50 of ice time. That’s a heavy load for the 27-year-old, who had missed 13 of 15 games with a groin injury from Feb. 17 to March 19.
Green was quickly able to move past that.
“I think he’s feeling pretty comfortable back there right now,” right wing Troy Brouwer sad. “I know with all the injuries he’s had over the past couple years he’s felt like he hasn’t got into a good rhythm.”
When Green is making opponents respect offense coming from the blue line, life is easier on the likes of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro. He’s a calming influence on the point on the power play and dangerous at five-on-five.
But Green’s contributions as an all-around defenseman might be just as important.
“He’s also playing good defensively,” Brouwer said. “He’s out there on the penalty kill, which I don’t know if he used to do a lot before. He’s playing good, solid hockey and he’s doing things we need to do to win. Like jumping up in the rush, making it more difficult for their back-checkers to handle us, and we’re creating more offense as a result.”
Green is creating more offense individually too. His game is clicking well enough that he’s dictating the pace of play.
“As far as seeing the ice and getting opportunities, everything kind of slows down again where you can see the holes,” he said.
Vision is one element of Green’s game that made him a transcendent offensive defenseman a few years ago, when he was putting up 60-plus points. He got Lasix surgery before the season but only lately has he had such a keen eye for the net.
“I see some of that, for sure,” Oates said. “When you miss a lot of games, it affects your timing. Even when you come back, he’s been hurt a few years consecutively, so that affects your timing, your conditioning, your reads. That’s one of the tough parts of the job.”
At least lately it’s a part of the job Green has started to recapture.